The case for abstraction

artist painting in studio

Why do I make abstract paintings? Well it’s an instinctive thing and it’s what has primarily interested me in my artistic practice over the last two decades. For me, the experience of making a painting successful with nothing but marks and color keeps me interested and engaged. It also allows me to express a lot of the ideas and images I think of in a way that is more sensorial.

I don’t paint so that people can see what it’s like to be outside. I paint so that people can FEEL what it’s like to be outside.

When a painting features a thing or person, we are drawn to those recognizable elements and the possible stories around them. Abstraction is so vital because it captures the things we cannot see. When it’s done well, abstraction pulls at our gut in ways that we may not be able to express with words or photos. It taps a line directly to our emotions. This is why some people cry when they are in the presence of a Rothko painting. I am one of those people. It never fails that if I see a Rothko and I take the time to sit in front of it, I’ll soon be sobbing. (It was embarrassing at first, and then I just gave into it.)

I paint both totally abstract and representational paintings. I consider my more representational work – like my plein air landscapes – an important part of my practice. All of that looking at the world and recording it and making decisions about what to include affects my more abstract work. I think of the small landscapes as finished paintings, but they are also studies for my larger more abstract works. When I paint or draw, and am not simply copying something, I make a series of decisions about how to translate what I see or think of into marks and color. With time, as I keep practicing my craft, my eye and hand become more agile and my decision-making is strengthened. With experience, I’ve become more confident in my decisions while I work. When to make big changes or when to stop are not easy problems to solve, but I trust my process.

Life is a big paradox. I think abstraction often does a more compelling job of expressing this than a photo-representational artwork. I’ve accepted that life is chaos and I’m ok with not having it all figured out. Painting is what helps me explore this and share it with everyone else.

How does abstraction make you feel? Do you have any questions about this you’d like to ask me? Email me and I’ll do my best to answer.

I’ll leave you with this excellent video from PBS’ The Art Assignment. This is “The Case for Abstraction.”

Shared Spaces: a new project

A couple weeks ago I posted about depression on Facebook. I had hit a particularly low point and decided to share my experience in a public forum. I had never openly shared about depression or anxiety on social media in the past and was uncomfortable about doing so, but I decided to do it anyway. I knew other people were struggling too, and I figured that talking about it openly would be a step to help de-stigmatize it.

To my surprise, many friends commented on my post with words of support and openly shared about their struggles and their loved ones’ battles with depression. Other friends wrote me privately to share their experiences. I responded the best I could to everyone’s messages and comments and wondered if there was anything more I could do. There was clearly a need for a safe space to share about our common pain.

Lately I’d been feeling particularly lonely and missed working with a team, so I wondered what I could do to engage others and also to harness this outpouring of shared experiences.

I decided to ask my friends on Facebook and Instagram to share images of outdoor spaces that bring them joy so that I might make paintings using their images as inspiration. This project became a way to sublimate people’s pain and turn it into something beautiful. Somehow in my mind I made a leap from hearing people’s stories to asking them to look outside of themselves to what brought them joy and sharing that. I am not so naïve to think that my project will fix the way people feel, but I do see a need for people to connect on a profound level and since I know the benefit of going outdoors, I think that sharing what we find beautiful outside, is a good place to start.

The project is called “Shared Spaces.”

So below is the project. Please share your images if you want to participate.

I am making paintings of outdoor spaces using photos shared by you as inspiration. If you’d like to participate, here’s what to do: take a photo of a landscape, cityscape or any outside space that you find beautiful or inspiring. Post it to Facebook or Instagram, tag me (Jessica Singerman on Facebook and @jessicasingermanfineart on Instagram) or email it to me and share what this place means to you, why it brings you joy or inspires you. I’m excited to see your images!

Please share this post with anyone who would like to participate. Thank you!

This is a preparatory watercolor sketch I made from a friend’s image.
Preparing the panels for this series of paintings. This is sizing to prepare the wood for the oil primer that will go on top.

The drawings behind the paintings

For the paintings in my exhibit at SECCA, “I must love you very much” I did a bit more planning than I normally do. To be honest, I don’t typically plan my paintings, but for these paintings I did have a specific feeling that I wanted. I liked the idea of making a group of paintings big enough to surround viewers such as Monet’s “Water-Lilies.” Some of his water lily paintings were mural sized works that filled specially made rooms at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.
I’ve been obsessed with Pilot Mountain for a couple of years, and have made a lot of paintings inspired by the place, but they were smaller works. For this project, I wanted to make paintings so big that a person looking at them would have the feeling of being transported to Pilot Mountain. While I’m not interested in creating a photo-realistic image of the place, I am interested in evoking the myriad sensations we feel when we are there.
To determine the size of the paintings, I measured the space I had available for my exhibit at the museum. I planned to make the paintings as large as I could make them while still leaving a bit of white space – or breathing room – around each one. I made four paintings, one for each wall.
After determining their size and taking reference photos on some hikes, I made preliminary watercolor drawings to loosely plan out the composition for each of the four paintings. I used a photo as the first point of reference, then reinterpreted the image by looking for the essential shapes that I would use in my paintings. As I worked on the large paintings, I referred to these drawings as a sort of map to give structure to my paintings. These are those drawings:
 

Want to see how I made these paintings? Check out this time-lapse video I made documenting the process.

Making some paintings

I recently finished a group of four paintings for my exhibition at Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA), and during the time I made the last two of the paintings, I shot a photo every ten seconds to document the process. Below is the time-lapse video of the entire process over the course of six weeks. From start to finish, you’ll see how I put together “Of Stones and Earth and Air” (on the left) and “Unhearable Sounds” (on the right). See these paintings and the others at “I must love you very much,” my solo exhibit at SECCA, in Winston-Salem, NC September 17 – October 13. The opening reception takes place on Thursday September 19, from 6:00-8:00 PM, with an artist talk at 7:00 PM. Artwork is available for purchase. Contact me by phone (336) 283-0185 or email if you’d like to acquire these paintings for your collection.

Read about these paintings and the exhibit HERE.

See a video documenting the process of stretching one of these massive canvases HERE.

 

The finished paintings:

 

“I must love you very much” opening at SECCA September 2019

It’s my pleasure to announce that my first solo museum show opens at SECCA in Winston-Salem next month. Read on for the press release with all the juicy details…

Jessica Singerman, “Unhearable Sounds,” 2019, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches

 

(August 20, 2019, Winston-Salem, NC) Award-winning painter Jessica Singerman announces her exhibit of paintings entitled I MUST LOVE YOU VERY MUCH, opening at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) on September 17 and continuing through October 13. The opening reception takes place on Thursday September 19, from 6:00-8:00 PM, with an artist talk at 7:00 PM. Artwork will be available for purchase.

In Singerman’s monumental paintings, layered shapes meet muscular paint handling and a bold use of color to evoke a vast landscape and memories of time spent in the outdoors.

Says Singerman of these paintings, “There’s a line from a Mary Oliver poem that goes “If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.” Her writing cuts to the essential about what matters and what I hope to share in my work. It feels especially poignant these days – our world feels crazy and I’m afraid to lose the lands I love so much. One of my favorite such places is Pilot Mountain State Park. It inspires my work with its beauty as it overlooks the landscape surrounding it. This group of paintings came from time I spent hiking there with my family – views from the trail-side and of a pastoral landscape – not wild, but full of a vast energy nonetheless.

Mary Oliver’s writing encapsulates something essential about the human condition and about our experience in nature. If my paintings could speak, I like to think Mary’s poetry is how they would speak. Or rather, I hope that my paintings get close to the kind of transcendence of her poetry. Marks and color that transcend being and take the viewer to another place – a memory perhaps – and spur them to reflect on what it means to be human and on our relationship to nature. In any case, “if you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.”

Arts writer Michael Solender wrote in the Charlotte Observer, “Singerman’s approach to her work and her outlook on life brings a broad perspective as a product of a bicultural upbringing. Her mother is French and her father is American.(…) Her work offers explosions of color, form and light conjuring imagery of motion and depth.”

About the artist: A resident of North Carolina since 1980, Jessica Singerman lived alternatively in France and the United States during her early life. Singerman earned her BA with Highest Honors in 2002 from the College of William & Mary, Virginia, and her Masters of Fine Arts in 2004 from the University of Delaware while on a fellowship. Her watercolors are the subject of a book published in 2017, Little Watercolor Squares, and her award-winning paintings and drawings are exhibited and collected internationally. Singerman lives and works in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. For more information visit www.jessicasingerman.com.

SOUTHEASTERN CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ART, including I MUST LOVE YOU VERY MUCH, by Jessica Singerman, September 17 – October 13. Opening reception Thursday September 19, 6:00-8:00 PM, and artist talk at 7:00 PM.
750 Marguerite Dr, Winston-Salem, NC 27106, www.secca.org, 336.725.1904

For more information contact:
Jessica Singerman, (336) 283-0185
[email protected]

Radio Camp Interview with 88.5 WFDD Public Radio

A couple of weeks ago, 88.5 WFDD Public Radio ran their Radio Camp at Wake Forest University, and invited me to participate in their interviews.

Radio Camp invited me to talk about what it is I do as an artist, and my interviewer Aida did a great job researching me and my work in preparation for our discussion. Aida and I spoke about my background, my practice as an artist, artist stereotypes, and the relationship between my artwork and my experience outdoors. We also talk specifically about my Paper Mountain project, the monumental installation of 1200 cranes I folded and suspended from the ceiling last spring at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art. She edited our conversation into a 4 minute piece you can listen to HERE. I’m really happy with how the interview turned out. Thank you Aida and thank you 88.5 WFDD!

Radio Camp is a week-long, summer enrichment day camp for middle school students interested in technology, journalism, and the exciting world of radio! Over the week, students learn the basics of audio recording in the studio and in the field; how to conduct an interview; how to edit sound on computers into a news story; and the other skills needed to write, record, edit, and create stories for radio broadcast.”

Jessica Singerman and Aida Saake at 88.5 WFDD Radio Camp 2019

Something neat I found on the internet this week:

Photographs taken behind the scenes by Sylvain Sorgato, an artist/curator for the French paper Libération. These photos document the unseen side of exhibiting… the work that goes into installing and de-installing art exhibits. See them HERE.

Found this interesting? Then please share! Thanks!

Diebenkorn’s Notes on Beginning a Painting

Richard Diebenkorn is one of my painting heroes. I love the way he breaks up the space of a sheet of paper or canvas, his use of color, the way he allows the work or history of a piece to show, and how he worked both in representation and pure abstraction. He had some ideas he kept in mind when starting new work, and I keep a copy of these tacked up in my studio. Whether you’re an artist or not, what do these mean to you?

“Notes to myself on beginning a painting” by Richard Diebenkorn

1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.
3. DO search.
4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
5. Don’t “discover” a subject – of any kind.
6. Somehow don’t be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.
8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.
9. Tolerate chaos.
10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

Reference: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/diebenkorn-ten-rules

The Music of the Wind Paintings and Why Van Gogh Maybe Didn’t Kill Himself…

I’m fascinated by the wind. Cultures create all sorts of stories to try and make sense of the wind and how it affects us. My grandparents lived in Caen, France for a while when I was little. It’s a very windy place, and I will always remember how the wind there made me feel. It tossed me around, made me feel little, and made me feel generally uneasy. On the other hand, winds clean the air, carry scents, and even create power with wind turbines.

Music of the Wind 1, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

I made these paintings as I thought of the wind: how it feels when we’re outside when it’s hot or cold, how it shapes the earth…

Music of the Wind 2, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches
The wind is mysterious. It’s such a powerful force and yet we can’t see it.
In these particular paintings, I’m layering shapes and color evocative of landscapes seen both from ground level and from above (from an airplane for example). I also layer gestural marks and shapes of color to convey the energy of the outdoors.

These paintings are currently available from my web shop until August 27th. Find them HERE.

Music of the Wind 3, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

There’s a strong wind called Le Mistral in the south of France. 

According to popular culture throughout history, this wind has been accused of everything from making people crazy to inciting murder. So in that vein, here’s an interesting tidbit I found this week… Van Gogh, who famously lived in the south of France, maybe didn’t commit suicide. Recent forensic research shows that he may have been instead murdered by a local group of kids who used to bully him… Read more about why this could be true, how the story of his suicide came about, and why a lot of folks are angry about it on the Charmed Studio and on Vanity Fair.

If you found this the least bit interesting, please share it with others. Thanks!

Searching for titles

I’ve just gotten back from a trip with my family to France, and I’m jumping right into the thick of it: TITLING PAINTINGS. Titling artworks inspires dread in the hearts of many artists. How do we put words to a thing that we don’t have the words to describe? Isn’t this why we work in visual media anyway? Kidding aside though, while titling doesn’t necessarily come easily to me, I have a process for coming up with titles. I read Mary Oliver’s poetry and take note of any poems, phrases or particular words that jump out at me. I keep a little notebook of these words and phrases and then either use those as titles, or come up with titles by riffing off her work. Her writing cuts to the essential about what I want to express in my work. I love the way her poem below “Mysteries, Yes” encapsulates the myriad feelings of wonder we can feel as we go about our lives.

Mary Oliver - Mysteries, Yes
From the book “Devotions”

Why does fitness matter as an artist? It’s not what you think.

Artists get a bad rap. Whether it’s the myth of the starving artist, or the stories of drug and alcohol abuse, there aren’t a lot of highly visible models for artists to follow for a healthy sustainable career. An artist who takes care of themselves, spends time with their family, and behaves like a professional doesn’t necessarily make for the most exciting story, but the fact is, it makes for a more productive, well-rounded, happier artist, who is more likely to keep making their artwork and have a thriving life and career.
Here I am hoofing it up one of my favorite hills in PA…
Fitness is an important tool for me. I need to move my body to burn off excess energy (outside if possible), and most importantly, I find that it clears my head, focuses my mind, and helps manage my mood – an essential part of spending long hours working on my own.
I believe that to make our most honest artwork, it helps to have a clear head. When I don’t exercise – especially outside – I am prone to depression and anxiety. Riding my bike is especially potent – the intense exercise burns off excess energy and the repetitive action of pedaling helps to tap right into a meditative state. This is the best recipe for me. As a bonus, riding is a social activity, a good counter balance to days working alone.
Tying fishing lines to hang origami birds for Paper Mountain
I stand most of the day and my work sometimes involves reaching and twisting into strange positions (such as the week of installation required to hang Paper Mountain – Click here to watch a timelapse of the week-long process). My work involves making repetitive motions for long periods of time (when using painting or cutting tools or folding paper for instance), so repetitive injury is a risk for me. In addition to more vigorous exercise, I practice yoga on most mornings to stave off pain from new and old injuries and to calm my mind. When I’m being especially good, I also finish the day with a few minutes of physical therapy and calisthenics for basic strength and injury prevention.
A big part of making art sustainable for me is to take care of myself. It’s hard enough to spend long hours on my own acting as both artist and entrepreneur, but if I’m not mentally and physically fit, it makes it difficult to stay focused and to work without physical pain.
The old myth of the starving unhealthy artist is just that – OLD. I’d rather keep myself healthy so I can keep on making my work long into old age.
What works for you? What keeps you healthy and happy? I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at: [email protected]

If you found this interesting, you’ll like my post: 11 things athletes do that will make you a better artist

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